Ex-Arsenal star who threw flares back at fans soon had hooligans going after him
Graham Stack was once forced to defend himself against Belgian hooligans after they stormed the pitch at a Pro League game.
Stack, 41, won the FA Youth Cup as an apprentice at Arsenal but found the step up to senior football difficult as established goalkeepers David Seaman and Richard Wright blocked his path to regular football. With Arsene Wenger unable to commit to guaranteed game time, he was sent out on to Beveren in the Belgian first division, alongside fellow Arsenal youngsters Liam Chilvers and John Halls.
"Belgium was crazy. It was mad. It was a crazy season," Graham Stack exclusively told Ladbrokes Fanzone. "There were opportunities to go to lower league clubs but to play against the likes of Bruges, Anderlecht and Standard Liege, to play in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, for a young player at 20 years of age was a huge opportunity for me.
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"It was an unbelievable year for me on the pitch, but it was a massive learning curve off of it as well, it came with a few hairy moments, of course, but being confronted by the hooligans as a young lad was such a massive event in my life.
"I remember it all so clearly; we’d scored late on and the atmosphere was red-hot, flares and everything in the away end, and it had a real derby atmosphere. They were expected to beat us on the day, but it just so happened that we went 3-1 up late on and at that stage, there was all sorts of missiles being thrown on the pitch and I was throwing them back off the pitch and I could tell that was riling their supporters.
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"I could see the gate with just one old guy steward sat on his own, and I thought ‘I’d have absolutely no chance if this gate comes clean through’, and while the game was going on I saw the players just turn round and I thought they were looking at me but it was at the supporters behind me who were now coming on the pitch.
"I think it was a natural instinct really to do what I did. Because the game was still going on I didn’t feel like I was in a position to leave the pitch, and I didn’t want to leave so I stayed on the pitch and was obviously confronted by two hooligans who were worse for wear, so I just had to defend myself in fairness.
"The game was called off because in the end riot police and horses, the lot, were on the pitch and I remember after the game – because it’s a tiny little town – that it just blew up. I was invited on talk shows, invited to dinner with Belgium’s greatest ever goalkeeper and his family, people left boxing gloves outside the front of my flat – it was crazy."
Returning to make his Arsenal debut during their 2003/04 'invincibles' season, Stack recorded just five first-team appearances, all in the League Cup, as the north Londoners bowed out to Middlesbrough in the semi-finals. Following a loan stint at the Madejski Stadium, as Reading romped to the Championship title amassing a record-breaking 106 points, he joined The Royals on a permanent deal but only managed a combined 10 showings for the Berkshire-based outfit.
After spells at Leeds United, Plymouth Argyle and Hibernian, Stack settled back in the capital with Barnet, keeping 18 clean sheets as The Bees returned to League Two as Conference champions. Also spending a brief spell in India, he came out of retirement in March 2022 to play one game for Chesham United. He currently holds the role of First Team Goalkeeping Coach at Colchester United.
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